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August 15, 2022

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Locals react to U.S. soccer win over Spain

USA soccer upsets Spain

Associated Press

USA’s Benny Feilhaber, left, celebrates with teammates Oguchi Onyewe, center, and goalkeeper Tim Howard, right, at the end of their Confederations Cup semifinal soccer match against Spain at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein, South Africa, Wednesday, June 24, 2009. The US won 2-0 and advanced to the final.

The United States’ 2-0 victory over Spain, the top soccer team in the world, sent shock waves around the world Wednesday that have been felt in Las Vegas.

Throughout the match in South Africa, UNLV men’s coach Mario Sanchez received and sent dozens of text messages to his contacts in the sport.

“We just kept saying, ‘Can you believe this? What in the world is going on?’ ” Sanchez said Thursday afternoon. “It makes you proud to see the sport you love and support pull off something like that.”

The victory in a semifinal of the Confederations Cup, which has been a test run for next summer’s World Cup in South Africa, slipped the U.S. into Sunday’s final against Brazil.

The parents of UNLV women’s coach Kat Mertz watched the game, on a Spanish-language television channel, in Florida.

“They said the announcers said it was the biggest day for U.S. soccer,” Mertz said. “My sister, who doesn’t watch soccer, even said, ‘Are you watching this?’

“I’m totally happy and excited for the USA and the boys. It says a lot for soccer and where it’s going in the U.S. Hopefully, it draws more attention and the U.S. team can get more respect.”

For Sanchez and Mertz, the victory over Spain, which had a 35-match unbeaten streak snapped, boosted two coaches who have had recent stints with U.S. junior national teams; Sanchez in Italy and Mertz in Chile.

Mertz, though, was disappointed to read scant coverage of the game in Thursday’s USA Today.

“It was pretty small for the type of game it was,” she said. “It was like, ‘C’mon, give the U.S. some love.’”

The outcome was hailed by many of this country’s soccer cognoscenti as the biggest U.S. victory since it upended England, 1-0, in pool play in Belo Horizonte at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

New York Times columnist George Vescey called it the greatest victory in the history of U.S. soccer.

Danny Stone, a Liverpool native who was brought up in the Blackburn Rovers youth academy and played for two other professional teams in England, coaches kids in Las Vegas and marveled at the match.

“Once they went up a goal, they fought hard to maintain the lead and took full advantage of a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes from Spain,” Stone said. “This is why it’s the greatest game in the world. On any day, anyone can play well and deserve to win. I am looking forward to a good test in the final against Brazil.”

Longtime Las Vegas referee John Kennedy was calling a game Tuesday night at the Kellogg Zaher Soccer Complex when he got into an exchange with a player.

The U.S. is going to get hammered by Spain, the player told Kennedy.

“I said, ‘Whoa, don’t be surprised to see the U.S. beat Spain,’ ” Kennedy said. “They were due to play well. They had played so poorly. I thought they were capable of matching a good team like Spain.

“And they proved it. They were very tight at the back, they grabbed a couple of goals … they weren’t great goals, but they gave them the edge.”

In group action, the U.S. was walloped by Italy (3-1) and Brazil (3-0) in South Africa.

However, the Americans improbably advanced to the semifinals via a 3-0 victory over Egypt and Brazil’s 3-0 pasting of Italy. The U.S. eked into the semis by scoring one more goal than the Italians.

“Spain was a great way to bounce back from a couple of slightly disappointing displays earlier in that tournament and in World Cup qualifiers,” Stone said. “It was all-around a better performance.”

Two of the previous four U.S. World Cup qualifiers were a 3-1 defeat at Costa Rica and a 2-2 tie at El Salvador.

“A week ago, people were saying we took three steps back,” Sanchez said. “With what’s going on now, we’ve taken three steps forward. It definitely says we’re getting better.”

Sanchez grew up playing the game with Diego Bocanegra, the older brother of national team defender Carlos Bocanegra.

Most impressive to Sanchez, he said, is how Wednesday’s victory has boosted the U.S. among Hispanic soccer fans. The Americans play an important World Cup qualifier in Mexico City on Aug. 12.

“It gave the team a big jump in credibility, especially with the Hispanic population I talk with,” Sanchez said. “They’re definitely jumping on board with us. There’s a feeling that it’s not a joke.

“The better the national team does, the better it is for all of us involved in soccer. It solidifies to the mainstream sports public that soccer is legitimate in this country. It gives credibility to the passion we have for this game.”

Still, Kennedy hesitated. The 59-year-old native of Glasgow, Scotland, remembers when England won the World Cup on its own turf, at Wembley Stadium, in 1966.

The Three Lions’ next match, again at Wembley, was against Scotland. Kennedy was in the stands to watch his home country beat the English, 3-2.

“Fans thought we were the champions of the world, but it doesn’t work that way,” Kennedy said with a sly grin. “The U.S. supporters are thinking that, as well. Spain was a fantastic result. Does it make the U.S. No. 1 in the world? I don’t think so.

“The U.S.-Brazil final will be a helluva game. My soccer head says Brazil will beat them, but my soccer heart would love to see the U.S. win. Two great results in a row might be above them, though.”

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